Local Municipalities Partner to Secure Grant to Upgrade Emergency Radio Systems

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The County and Town of St. Paul, along with the Town of Elk Point, and surrounding areas, are upgrading their emergency radio systems. That means every emergency service, police, fire, ems, etc will need to upgrade to the new system.

Director of Emergency Management, Rob Duffy says the current system is outdated and there is no way of repairing it should it fail. “It was done back in the early to mid- 80’s. It’s pretty outdated. One person was the one who developed the system and he understood how it all worked. Once he [retired] nothing was documented, it was stuff he had in his head. So when he [retired] no one really understood the system.” This leaves many municipalities in the area in quite the predicament, says Duffy  “for us to do the maintenance on it now, we need to understand the system. We’ve talked to a couple of companies now about coming in to do an engineer inspection for us. The inspection is quite expensive. With the current system we already know that if we were to do any upgrades it’s already at a substantial cost.”

The estimated cost of repairing and upgrading the current system is over 1 million dollars. Not wanting to continually throw money at a problem that may never be fixed, the County and municipalities within the County decided the best course of action would be to bring in a new radio system, explains Duffy, “our system has never been inspected. We have no preventative maintenance measures in place, all of that was missed.”

The provincial government has come out with a radio communication system, Alberta First Responder Radio Communications Systems (AFRRCS), that has been mandated for all the province controlled emergency responders, for example the RCMP force. The system is unique in that it allows different emergency responders to communicate via radio channels. Whereas before a fire fighter would have to call dispatch to relay messages to the RCMP. Now fire can call out on the radio for RCMP to select a certain channel and they can communicate privately on a secured channel. The radio system runs off of towers that are being installed by the province and the more towers there are the better coverage. The current system allows for a lot of “dead spots”, the AFRRCS system should eliminate those issues.

“The Government agencies are all going with the AFRRCS, it’s been mandated by the province. They have no choice, they are going with the system. Alberta Health Services has issued a tender for 300 radios, so they’re going with it. All the ambulances, and medical personnel are going with it. There’s already a lot of emergency personnel using it,” states Duffy.

“The new system is available to all the first responders,” explains Duffy, “so you think of Fire, RCMP, Police, Sheriffs, EMS, Fish & Wildlife, any of those groups. This system is available to them, free of cost. You just need to purchase the radios and licencing fees.”

The current system is all out of pocket costs to upgrade, maintain, and run, Duffy explains, “for the AFRRCS, the province is putting up the towers and they do the maintenance. It’s one less cost for us to worry about on the preventative maintenance side of things.”  The intent it to have the system operational by June 2016.

With the province covering most of the costs Duffy estimates the municipalities will have to put in approximately $350,000. Duffy explains that there are 120+ radios that need to be replaced and each municipality will be responsible for their own radios. Some good news is that there is a grant available to help cover the costs of the radio. The Town of Elk Point’s Council recently passed a motion to work with the County and Town of St. Paul to secure an Alberta Communities Partnership (ACP) Grant, that if successful will cover approximately $150,000 of the total cost.

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